The Godfather of Vitamin C: Linus Pauling
About Linus Pauling
Linus Carl Pauling was born on February 28, 1901. He had an early interest in science, which prompted him to scrounge for materials in nearby, abandoned factories to conduct chemistry experiments in his garage. Pauling was accepted into Oregon State University when he was fifteen-years-old. The high school principal refused to let Pauling take the last few classes he needed to graduate in conjunction with college courses. Consequently, Pauling did not receive the diploma for nearly five decades, until after he had acquired his second Nobel Prize.
At Oregon State, Pauling routinely outperformed his professors in theory and in the lab. The chemistry staff invited Pauling to lead several undergraduate courses, which taught him how to lecture, but also gave him access to journals. These published groundbreaking studies kept Pauling current with modern experiments and theories.
After graduation, Pauling would go on to work with some of the finest scientists of the 20th century. For winning the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1926, Pauling was trained by Sommerfeld, Niels Bohr, and Erwin Schrödinger, and a few years later worked on the elements of chemical bonds with Robert Oppenheimer.
When Pauling was thirty, he published a paper called “The Nature of the Chemical Bond,” where he argued that the ideas between covalent and ionic bonds were too black and white. His ideas were revolutionary, netting Pauling the Langmuir Prize and the distinguished title as the most distinguished chemist in the U.S.
Pauling worked in the medical field. His 1949 paper called “Sickle Cell Anemia, A Molecular Disease” studied the electrical charge of certain hemoglobin. This paper changed the way researchers looked at blood and oxygen transport. This would pave the way for his future vitamin C research, as Pauling spent this time looking at patients with anemia, high cholesterol, joint pain, and other ailments.
He was also a leading authority on amino acids and proteins. “The Structure of Proteins” was published in 1951, where Pauling described the different shapes and configurations of several amino acids. Watson and Crick used this research to later prove the shape of DNA.
By the end of his career, Pauling had become one of the most influential scientists in his generation. Pauling founded the fields of molecular biology and quantum chemistry. He was the recipient of two Nobel Prizes, winning the Chemistry Prize in 1954 and the Peace Prize in 1962.
One of Pauling’s biggest public impacts was his work on vitamin C and its connection to boosting the immune system. In 1970 he published “Vitamin C and the Common Cold.” He claimed that taking 1g of vitamin C a day could improve flu resistance by almost 50%. Pauling released new editions of his book as he continued his research. His belief that vitamin C was helpful in preventing illness became more pronounced and less selective over time. By 1986, Pauling believed vitamin C helped reduce or control a variety of medical problems from heart disease to certain types of cancer.
The heart of Pauling’s cardiovascular work investigated the link between vitamin C and lysine, an important amino acid associated with the heart. He theorized that together they could strengthen arterial walls. Lysine inhibited certain types of cholesterols from causing blockages and stroke, while vitamin C strengthened the artery walls.
Vitamin C undergoes important oxidation-reduction reactions within the body, so the mineral is an effective antioxidant. It protects important cells and body tissue, ranging from proteins, carbohydrates; even DNA. It can relieve toxic molecules that enter the body through the atmosphere, our foods, or virulent strains of germs. Pauling built on the research surrounding scurvy (the fatal disease caused by vitamin C deficiencies) and used medical technology available during that time to scientifically back his assumptions. Pauling continued to study intake levels for the remainder of his life, reportedly taking 10g+ per day as he aged.
In 1973, Pauling partnered with two of his colleagues and founded the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. His research institute was active in a variety of fields, but they also published a number of medical papers advocating the benefits of vitamin C. He attributed his long life to his daily vitamin C intake, passing away at 93.